Rally against state prison closures follows senate hearing

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The state Department of Corrections could soon offer devastating news to two Pennsylvania communities.

On Thursday, January 26, the Department of Corrections is expected to announce which two out of five possible prisons will be selected for closure.

One of the final steps in the process took place Monday as legislators representing the five districts fighting the closure and other stakeholders presented testimony at a senate hearing, before the DOC announces which two prisons will close.

PA State Corrections Officers Association president Jason Bloom testified "anything is better than 20 days."

The state's decision to close two prisons came less than three weeks prior to the final scheduled announcement.

Time is running out as state legislators plead their case, along with a crowd of correctional officers who rally together to save their communities.

Sen. David Argall (R-29th District, Berks/Schuykill) said "if you're making a decision that's involving thousands of individuals, tens of millions of dollars, you need to take your time and do it right."

Sen. John Yudichak (D-14th district, Luzerne/Carbon) said: $62 million in economic loss, over 400 jobs, $1.6 million dollar loss to the school district, $400,000 loss to the host community of Newport Township is clearly unacceptable. We will not be able to recover from that."

The Department of Corrections selected five state correctional institutions as candidates for closure.

"Closing down two prisons may prove a political point, but if it doesn't save the commonwealth any money, if all it does is increase the insecurity and the safety risk in these jails, that's a great concern of all of us," Yudichak said.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Regional Deputy Secretary Tabb Bickell said "we're going to be very, very careful, with our office of population management not to overload any prisons. We'll make sure that our security levels are looked at, our treatment plans are looked at, so I'm confident we'll be fine."

The cost-cutting move to close two state prisons comes as Pennsylvania faces a budget crisis.

"We should go through the budget process, if the prison population is trending downward, we should look at ways we can manage our prisons in a better way. Right now, under the current system, $100 million in overtime, a $50 million spike in overtime," Yudichak said.

"We certainly don't want to jeopardize the safety of my members inside an institution, all on the bounds of trying to save a dollar," Bloom said.

Many hoping to save the prisons, their jobs and their communities say the hearing addressing the closures raised more questions than answers, leaving them to ask one more question of their own.

PA State Corrections Officers Association business agent Mark Truszkowski said "we are asking that the legislators of Pennsylvania//have the power to stop this decision."

SCI CAMP HILL recently announced it will open 1,000 more beds.

The additional capacity could bring more prisoners to central Pennsylvania.

Whether it those prison jobs affected will follow is to be determined as talks continue.